skull More Fish skull
skull Raja Ampat, Indonesia skull

The Shakti

October 8, 9, 10

After saying a sad good bye to Blaine, who promised to bring Judy next time (hopefully Christmas), we exited the small Sorong airport and started walking towards the main road. It was half the price to get a cab/bemo there than in the airport parking lot. We didn’t get far, a bemo picked us up and we bartered down to what we paid last time. In no time at all we were back at the Ramberamo Hotel, checked in and in the wonderfully hot shower. Clean, I crawled into bed and started to channel surf. James was more energetic than me and went for a walk to find a grocery store. He came back with a few treats and showered and settled in beside me for some tv. We ordered room service and never left the room again until breakfast the next day. We decided to go to breakfast late, we got cold food but it ended up being brunch. There wasn’t much in Sorong, and not many restaurants so we were happy with free brunch, noodles, fruit and pb sandwiches. Good for the budget too.

I somehow managed to not leave the room for almost 24 hours. Air conditioning, tv, room service, hot water….and it was clean. Why would I leave? Finally on Monday we went looking for an internet café and I spent about 5 hours in a hot, smelly room filled with young boys. It wouldn’t have been so bad except all my t-shirts were in the laundry and all I had was shorts and a tank top – so I felt naked – and they stood behind and beside me staring at my sluttyness.

We managed to get a few things done on-line and my blog up-dated, but not nibsy.com, the internet was just too slow. We were also looking for a battery for my dive computer. On Ahe it read low. They were supposed to last three years so we thought we’d be good, nope. We never found one and hoped that maybe the guys who run the Shakti (our live aboard) might be able to help. We had an early night, a last hot shower and enjoyed the tv and air conditioning.

October 11

We had another late breakfast and I started to organize stuff. We thought we might leave a few things in storage. Our pick up for the boat was supposed to be about 1 pm but at 10:45 am we got a call to our room – Din was in the lobby waiting for us. Yikes! We packed up quickly and checked out. I was so excited! When I first read about Raja Ampat, and crossed it off our list, I thought I’d likely never get the chance (find the right time or money) to do it but here we were; in a bemo on our way to the Shakti! The port was a bit rough and we had to step across a couple of wooden boats to reach our dingy. The dingy took us out into the bay to a beautiful wooden sail boat where we boarded and were given a short briefing from Din (a very friendly German girl who had been working on the Shakti for five years) and shown to our rooms. Our room was small, but clean, had lots of hidden storage and air conditioning. After our last budget boat I was a bit worried about the space, cleanliness and food. By the time (five minutes after being on board) I found the kitchen with the cake laid out and ready for me my fears were gone. It was a beautiful boat, nothing fancy but all we needed. It had four double rooms, two single rooms, three communal bathrooms, a lounge area with movies and a big screen, a large dining area where we could see what the cooks were doing and a lovely top deck to hang out, catch some sun or sit in the shade to read, nap or chat with the other guests. There was always more than enough food around and it actually tasted great. I liked that everything (pop, juice, milk, coffee, tea) was all included, except beer, so I didn’t feel like they were “nickel and dimeing” me. It held 10 guests comfortably but on this trip only had 8. Very nice!

After a quick lunch James and I sat on the top deck and read until everyone had been picked up and brought to the boat. Then Din did a full briefing and we had supper. It felt like we’d just had lunch…it turned out that they were always calling us to another meal and I always felt like we’d just eaten. Not a bad thing. James and I went to bed early hoping for a good sleep. We had 10 full days of diving ahead of us and I wanted to be well rested.

My favorite picture this trip - a mantis shrimp and a colorful nudi branch and a ghost pipe fish

October 12

Dave, the owner of the Shakti, woke us the next morning bright and early. He wanted to get in the water and do the first dive a bit early. No problem…just let me have a sip of coffee. Our first dive was a nice easy, not so specular dive mostly for Din & Dave to get a feel for everyone. it’s always good sign to see the guys in charge taking some time to see what everyone dives like, their air usage etcetera. I think James (always the pessimist) was a bit worried the diving wouldn’t live up to our expectations. I (always the optimist) assumed it would get better. It did. The third dive of the day was one of the best I’d ever had. . It was an hour filled with fish. I’ve said I’ve had fishy dives before but this was nuts! And not only a big school of one type of fish, dozens of different kinds. Big, small, colorful, not so colorful, lazy, quick…all shapes and sizes. It was so amazing. This is what I’d come for. We did a night dive that was another easy, no current dive with some great night time critters. It was a full moon so the currents were unpredictable and stronger than usual, and Raja Ampat can be known to have strong currents, but so far it wasn’t bad. Not being a current lover I was pleased. I was almost too tired to eat dinner, almost, but then headed to my icy cold room. I was lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat and had an amazing sleep.

A dingy ride through the islands.

October 13

I’m not sure what happened this morning. James woke me, I had a quick bite to eat, a half a coffee, dozed through the briefing (I am not a morning person and it was before 7 am!) and climbed on board the dingy. Two days into the trip I’d figured out that it is impossible for everyone to squeeze in front of their equipment, which is secured on two racks down the middle of the boat, at the front end of the boat. I’ve also figured out that two of the couples, 4 divers, have integrated weights (weights that go into BCD pockets instead of you wearing a weight belt) and Din & Dave have asked they put them in on the dingy, so the crew doesn’t have the extra weight to lug. So it makes sense to me to let them plunk in front of their equipment to get it ready. Following so far? So I took my back seat and started to put my fins on. Because I am near the back of the boat I get my gear last and if my fins are on I’m pretty much ready the same time as everyone else. I’m pretty quick gearing up. Anyways, this German guy starts telling me to wait and that we are all supposed to be sitting in front of our gear. I tell him that is literally impossible due to space and go back to my fins and my lovely morning doze. But he’s not done. He starts again. At this time Din is in checking the currents (which is what all dive guides should do when in current areas) so when he attacks me verbally everyone just stared wide eyed. James figures he was grumpy and saw me as a “little girl” he could pick on. He did have a point, it would have been nice to sit in front of our equipment but we were only one boat/dingy. Dave had a nasty gash on his leg and couldn’t dive so we squeezed on to one. But a moot point, we all wouldn’t fit in the four feet (X2) space with all our gear. He continued “telling me off” and I am conditioned to defend myself. Explaining again and again we all wouldn’t fit. I finally simply stated he was not the boss of me and if Din or Dave had an issue with me they could set me straight. For some reason that shut him up. I then, still a bit shocked, turned to see Allan (a very nice guy from Oslo) looking wide eyed at me. I gave him a WTF? look and he gave it back. We had a great dive, although I did wonder what had happened the whole time. I never have that effect on people. Come on! We are the friendly Canadians and we, especially me, live up to that stereotype.

Bright and colorful

The day ended up fine. All of Raja Ampats dives have been great, better than great, but every few dives you get a mind blowing one. I’m hoping 10 days will be enough.

Oct 14

Today was another day in paradise. The boat is comfortable, the food delicious, the sea is full of green islands with secluded beaches, the diving amazing…paradise.

Limestone Islands

Oct 15

Paradise… Today as James was taking a picture of a nudi (no surprise) (James’ Note: Susan is lying, I had just taken a picture of a pygmy sea horse and was busy rubbing it in that she has never ever been able to spot one) I took a look around and saw a few feet down a funny shaped leaf/coral on top of a table coral. I looked closer and squealed! It was a woebegone! Having a nap as relaxed as can be; I think he thought he was camouflaged. I turned to James and squealed again and looked ahead wanting to share. We’d fallen behind the group (also no surprise) and could only get the French couple to come back. They were as excited as us. Normally woebegones are hidden under a ledge and we’ve seen a few already on this trip but not like this. I tried to get a picture of James with the cutie but he wouldn’t get very close, chicken! The rest of the day I had a goofy grin on my face, incredible.

A "hidden" woebegone, a preggers pygmy seahorse and a skinny fish

In the afternoon Din took Shanty (the boat dog) to the beach for some exercise and invited us. I didn’t actually set foot on the beach; I enjoyed my exercise in the form of snorkeling. The beach was beautiful, white sand and fringed with palm trees. I have to wonder about the millions of people who flock to the Caribbean looking for pristine, seclude, tropical beaches on fantasy islands and don’t quite get it. Indonesia has it in spades; it’s just a little harder to get to, a bit more expensive, has less shopping and not always the five star services. Maybe someday…

Din, our guide, and Shanty the boat bog

Oct 16

Today we did more amazing diving. Amazing...I tried the thesaurus for a change but it really is amazing. James and I think it’s the best overall dive location. We haven’t had a bad site yet; the current isn’t that bad, it has macro, big fish, coral of every shape, size and color and the list goes on. The variety of everything is incredible.

Before our night dive Dave took us to a mangrove forest in and around a few tiny islands. We got close, cut the engine and he started to clap. Up from the mangroves rose massive bats. The biggest bats in the world actually. The fruit bat, aka flying fox, screeched and scattered in all different directions over our heads. Some were carrying babies. It was a bit creepy, but also very cool.

After dinner James went to our room to read and I had enjoyed a cold beer with Din. I think we both appreciated the “girl” talk. She’s making some big changes in her life and I can only imagine how hard it must be to be making these kinds of decisions so far away from family and friends. We sat and talked on the edge of the boat rail and watched the feeder shrimp jumping around. The lights from the boats were attracting 1000’s of fish. I may have had a touch of “home sick” when I finally crawled into bed.

Great big bats and a mother carrying her baby

Tuna boats

Oct 17

Have I already claimed to have done my favorite dive here? If so I have to add to the list… twice. We spent over two hours today (on two dives) with mantas. I’ve gushed over them in the past, beautiful, graceful, like ballet in the sea… but today was a unique experience. The second was my favorite. We followed Din to them then James and I hung around until everyone else left. There were three in the area and once it was just the two of us they settled back in to be cleaned. We finally had to go up a bit, they were at 23 ish meters, and saw a few more circling in the blue. Wow! Raja Ampat is knocking my socks off, well if I was wearing any. Come to think of it I haven’t worn shoes more than 3 or 4 times in the past 3 weeks… or clothes for that matter. I’ve pretty much lived in a bathing suit and sorong.

Graceful Mantas

A not so short video of a manta, and a short one of a shark
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 17 and 3 MB)

Dave wanted to show us around the islands a bit, a few secret places he said, so I grabbed a beer (no night dive for me!) and climbed aboard the dingy. He knew of a few secret side “streets” to get in the middle of the islands where the water was crystal clear and the sheer limestone walls had orchids and bucket plants growing up. Others had palm tree fringed white sand beaches that called out to us… so we stopped, had a swim and let Shanty have a run. We passed some local fishing boats full of waving locals.

Susan showing her brave side over the past couple of weeks when a whale shark snuck up on her, when she saw a mouse and when a manta swam in her general direction.

Back on board I found James in our room going through pictures. I said I was going up to visit before dinner. When I got upstairs though dinner was being served. I walked to our hatch (opens on top of the deck) and shouted down that dinner was ready. He said in that case he’d be right up. In the kitchen there was one seat with the guys or an empty table…I decided I should get the empty table so James will have someone to sit with. So I got my plate and sat down. And ate, and got seconds… and got a bit angry. I hate eating alone and for no reason I just did. HRUMPH! I waited a bit, went to the bathroom and decided to go to our room to read. He could just eat alone, I just did. I got to our door and hesitated opening it. I had locked him in. There is a latch on both sides so the door won’t bang and I have locked him in a few times, just not for this long. Oooppss! I unlocked it to find him standing in the middle of the room, not looking very happy. Well, I said, I just ate dinner all alone because of you! Said with a smile. He had tried standing on the bed and yelling out the hatch and knocking on the door. But everyone was in the dining room. Did I say oops yet? Sorry?

Stopped for a snorkel

Oct 18

I use to think one of the best things about diving (or anytime really) was second breakfast but the chef on board does a great afternoon treat. Bruschetta, banana fritters (that I will be cooking when I am home), homemade buns, cake, banana muffins… I think I am gaining weight. On all the dives I’ve tried to swim a bit, you really don’t do much unless there is current, and the beach trips I try to swim as well, but I’m not getting much exercise on the boat. I’m afraid after our week on Ahe Island followed by 12 days on a boat my legs really will fall off.

James and I usually have such great luck with groups but this time we have a few grumpy gusses. Jason, Dave’s brother from Hong Kong has been a laugh, Allen, from Oslo, is also funny and very interesting and Din & Dave are full of dive knowledge and patience. But – the German guy who yelled at me the other day and his wife do nothing but scowl. I’ve somehow managed to not speak a single word to either of them; ya not at all like me. She complains after almost every dive and I wish I could ask where she’s been diving that she can complain. I mean seriously, the dives are amazing! The other French couple are okay separate but fight nonstop with each other. “sigh” I opted out of the dingy tour of the islands today just to have some alone time; ya, like I said, not like me at all!

Colorful coral & fish, another woebegone and a small shark

Aside from the drama on board I can’t complain. We had another great day. James and I had figured that Komodo (so often compared to Raja Ampat as being the best) had better coral filled walls but today Raja Ampat beat that (James disagrees). Our third dive had a bit of current but the wall was full of color as far down as you could see and it felt endless as you floated by. The oranges and reds were brilliant and the bright greens and yellows popped out in comparison. As usual we saw one or two new nudis, but that is a given on every dive.

Another pregnant pygmy seahorse, a flexible starfish and a christmas tree worm ahhhh....mating?

I have to interrupt this blogging session; James is lecturing me about pictures. Something to do with taking to many underwater?!? Oh wait, and he thinks two dozen videos of clams closing (which is so much fun to watch) is too many. Apparently I have to go through them…I might be busy for a few hours…days...weeks.

A couple of cute blennies and everyone's favorite, "Nemo"

I opted out of the night dive. I’m not in love with them; I don’t see very well in the dark and am still a bit spooked at the unknown. James went and enjoyed it; saw a big fancy crab I think. I had a very long shower, cleaned my bathing suits and sat and read on the deck. The stars are brilliant at night and look close enough to touch. When I get up at night to go to the bathroom I’m always temped to curl up in a deck chair and just stare at them…but worry I’ll fall asleep and get swept overboard.

Amazing reefs

October 19

Today was another beautiful day. We did three great dives, went for a dingy ride through the islands and had a snorkel on a tiny secluded beach, relaxing night dive and some great company over dinner.

One of the many secluded beaches and one I got to visit

October 20

Today is day nine of diving in Raja Ampat. A few people have mentioned they find it a bit repetitive, great diving, but that the dives are very similar and after so many days it’s hard to distinguish between them. When we were booking for some reason I was hoping we’d do North Raja Ampat, but are doing South..sorry I can’t remember the reasons. But I personally love the dives and would like to come back to do the North. The dives are full of so many species of fish (in all sizes and colors), we’ve had sharks on about half the dives (grey reef, white & black tip, woebegone to name a few), the coral is healthy, pristine, vibrant and again comes in all shapes and sizes. The sea itself is clean with only a few spots (near villages) with sign of garbage and even then only a tiny bit. There are small critters for macro lovers and an IMAX experience for others who just snap their reef hook on at about 15 meters and sit back, relax and take in the fish action. The current, that I was worried about, was not an issue and Din is pretty good at reading the sites so the dives were leisurely, not a workout. I felt the dives, all of them, had something for everyone and would recommend it. James had a good point though; Egypt and Komodo have the same caliber of diving. But… Egypt is a bit crowded and Komodo has worse currents. Raja Ampat really needs to be done on a live aboard (Egypt can be enjoyed just as much from land as a live aboard but Komodo I’d suggest a live aboard) and is expensive. Our boat was an adorable two masted traditional wooden boat with shared bathrooms, although a bit pricey. For Raja Ampat you also have to factor in the getting to/from. It’s a little out of the way and will add a few days and bucks to your budget. Unless you have the time to add a stop in Bali or Jakarta or one of the many hubs you can travel through there isn’t much else to do in this remote part of Indonesia. Well, I’d suggest a few days in Ahe Island to play with the whale sharks…I mean if you are this close you might as well… Over all I’ve loved it and am very pleased we spent the time and money.

Fish, fish and more fish!

The second dive of the day had a fun swim through ringed with bright red, orange, yellow and green soft corals. I swam through, fighting a bit of current, and as I got to the middle, I turned to look for James… yup he was following. I turned back and found myself about 1 foot away from a big coral chomping bumphead. I fumbled with my camera, reminding myself repeatedly that they will not bit me, but didn’t get much of it on film or video. There have been a few on almost every dive and yet they still impress me. I tried to be sneaky and hide behind coral to get a better video but it was smarter than me.

Ahhhh, James' nudi branches (and flat worms, but I can't the difference)

October 21

Today is our last day of diving. We are lucky we have an overnight in Sorong so we get to do all three. The first two were fishy, bright coral dives. The second had really bad visibility. Raja Ampat is a hit and miss with vis, and we’ve haven’t been very lucky. I did see a giant grouper swim by surrounded by a few dozen small fish. To be honest at first I thought it was a small whale shark it was so big.

Videos of a cleaning station, a bumphead and lots of fish
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 16, 3 and 4 MB)

The third ended up being me and James and Din in a group and Dave and Jason in another. We entered a cavernous swim through at 3 meters and came out at 29 meters. We then did a fairly quick pass (quick for us) of the sight, passing a whip coral garden until we came to two chambers. We floated up and popped our heads out of the water in the smaller one first. It was a cathedral like chamber that had sun peeking through a few cracks and holes in the top. We ascended a few feet and swam through a small hole in the wall and surfaced into the larger chamber. Again it was cathedral like and had sunlight filtering through. It was quiet and our voices echoed around. Careful not to go too deep we ascended again and finished the dive in the shallows over another beautiful coral garden. We had a visit from one last bumphead before we surfaced for the last time. What a great end to our Raja Ampat diving.

James with a giant clam a few minutes before he tried to feed me to it, going into a cave and inside the cathedral

Between and after our dives I baked in the sun like a lazy lizard. With nothing to do but dive, eat and sleep I decided to get some sun. Normally the sun sucks the energy out of me so I try to stay hidden. Din joined me and we had a few laughs exchanging crazy people stories. Anyone who’s worked in any service orientated job can relate. I skipped the daily dingy tour, a half hour off the boat is such a nice treat and Dave & Din have done it almost every day, and read in the sun. I could get used to this… I actually asked if I could just stay and do the next tour (or 20) but James has informed me we can’t afford it. The next group is a bunch of scientists – how much fun would that be!

New dresses

October 22

We traveled all night and got into the bay at Sorong just as I came up for breakfast. We were the second batch to be taken to land and got to enjoy breakfast and lunch before we left. I reluctantly dug out real clothes and got dressed. Just as we were about to leave it started to downpour. Not a bad thing for diving but I was dressed and clean. Din pulled out garbage bags and we all made “little black dresses” for the ride to shore. I left mine on to keep my shorts clean and when I walked into the hotel the friendly door man asked if I had bought a new dress. I struck a pose, swinging my garbage purse (my purse was in it) and all the staff started to laugh.

In no time at all we were checked back into the Royal Ramberamo Hotel for the last time. I just hope soon it stops swaying; I think I have sea legs again.

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